Thursday, April 30, 2009

Retreats for Team Development During Critical Times

I read an article written in a March 2009 issue of Calgary Inc magazine that profoundly encouraged organizations to consider the critical value of staying with their corporate retreats during these trying economic times versus the knee jerk reaction of dropping the retreats in the name of cost cutting.
One quote suggested “Companies want to bring people together during these economic times and come up with ideas for how they are going to ride this out together”. We have seen an increase in not only our coaching business activity, but an increase in interest in executive retreats as well.  Retreats look different than they have in the past when cash was king and the agenda was predominately fun, celebration and recognition. Today we see clients staying closer to home, inviting less people and digging into deeper work agendas. Presently, the days of golf or fishing outings in the name of teamwork seem to be a fading memory. Deep and meaningful conversation seems to be the mainstay coupled with dinner and less casual conversation at night becoming the place for learning more about each other.
Challenging times create bigger irritants out of things we tended to ignore when we were running hard and makin’ money. During those grand times many of us would live with the teammate we didn’t get along with. Now we can’t stand them and these relationship challenges affect the entire organizational culture. Tougher times call for conversations that we would likely have avoided in the past. And many don’t know how to hold these necessary conversations. This becomes the work of coaches as they facilitate the conversations that are necessary to produce the relationships that work in order to create the results that are even more critical in these trying times.
Therefore, we have seen a decrease in traditional classroom training and an uptick in coaching, either on site in the workplace or in newly designed retreats that focus on the key relationships and the necessary conversations people need and want to have. As one of our coaching clients said recently, “Leadership is no longer for the faint of heart!”

Monday, April 20, 2009


I spend about a third of each month at our place in Tempe, Arizona. I love the Arizona climate. It seems that as each year passes I become more enamored with the warmth of the Arizona sun than the cold Alberta winters. And I get to play golf year round. There are literally hundreds of great golf courses to play in the Phoenix area and I do not belong to one club. With my flexible schedule I often play at different times and at quite a variety of courses. This means I often show up at a course as a single player and get placed with one to three other players. I consider this a wonderful opportunity to meet other golfers (and in some cases, potential client prospects).
On this past trip I did the usual and walked on to one of the local courses in Tempe as a single and got placed with a man named Rueben. Rueben is an aging black man with steel wool type gray hair sticking out from under his ball cap. He looked old to me and I later received confirmation that Rueben just turned 80 years old. Imagine the story I made up about the man I just got paired up with. He instantly gave me a sense of being a nice, kind man with a glowing smile and bright eyes. But I was mostly concerned with his ability to keep up with the group ahead of us and even more importantly, which set of tees he wanted to play from. I usually like to play the back tees, or as I age myself, maybe the next set up. Would I need to play the forward tees to accommodate the kind old man? As we came up to the first tee I stopped and asked Rueben which set of tees he preferred. To my surprise he asked if it was OK if we played from the back tees (the tips in golf talk).  We stepped up to the tee box and Rueben hit a beauty right down the middle. If not for dumping a shot in the water and taking a double bogey on the 18th Rueben would have scored under 100 for the round. He played wonderfully and was a joy to spend the afternoon with. He told me he played 210 rounds last year! So much for wondering if this old man could keep up!
I believe the game of golf is much like life when it comes to relationships. Think about the stories we make up when we first meet someone. What about the stories they make up about us?  I wonder what stories Rueben made up about me.  And of course, I had my own performance anxiety as I stepped up to the first tee with my newfound friend watching. I had a pretty good score this time and couldn’t help make up stories of what Rueben would think if I had hacked the ball around the course. Consider the opportunities we may have lost over the course of our lifetimes because we made up stories about people the instant they crossed our paths. We then discount someone as not worthy of our time or energy and move on to the next possibility.
What if we considered:
• Everyone we encounter as worthy of our time,
• Someone we could learn from,
• A credible human being with their own unique gifts,
• Someone we would minimally get as much from as we would give to them.
I would encourage all of us to upgrade our level of tolerance for others and to live in a higher place of abundance and care. Then may all the stories we make up be positive about others and prove to be true. Here’s to all the beautiful Rueben’s in the world!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Is There Really A Difference In The Generations?

The Baby Boomers and the Millennials have
more in common than either will admit.

Most of what we have read, researched and interviewed has brought us to the conclusion that there is not a discernible difference between the Baby Boomer (born between 1946 and 1964) and the Millennial (born between 1977 and 1998) generations when it comes to wants and desires. We have discovered that if the two took the time to talk with each other they would find the battles between the two to be almost laughable. The primary culprit in this generational war is nothing more than age. The Baby Boomers have forgotten all they stood for when they were young professionals and the Millennials have yet to experience the full benefits of age. Sit back and explore with us the similarities and the differences between the two and you will find that these two generations have more they share than the sandwiched Gen Xer’s have with either one.

“Because the demand for their services so greatly exceeds the supply, young graduates are in a strong position to dictate terms to their perspective employers. Young employees are demanding that they be given productive tasks to do from the first day of work, and that the people they work for notice and react to their performance.”

Sounds very much like the words of many of the Baby Boomer leaders we have coached as they speak of the sassy Millennial professionals entering their organizations today. The key to understand is that this is a quote from a Fortune magazine article written in April 1969! The more recent May 28, 2007 Fortune edition recites this 1969 quote as part of an article about managing the Millennial Generation titled “You Raised Them, Now Manage Them.” If this all rings such a familiar refrain, we will again, profess that there are many more similarities than differences between the two generations.
We have found that the search for the holy grail of leadership is still outside the grasp of almost all organizations. Through countless workshops, retreats, team development exercises and years of recruitment contracts, the qualities of the Sage Leader are often talked about and revered, and any organization that paid the fare to hire one or discovered one in their system coveted their prize possession. They learned to spend strategic time determining what it would take to find, develop and keep more of this sacred commodity.
Believing the qualities of this Sage existed only in the tenured ranks of seasoned Baby Boomers, companies have recently begun to realize this expertise is retiring and leaving in droves with little development of the leadership capacity remaining in the system. We have found that the wisdom of the Sage leader is available regardless of age or tenure. Mining the commodity from within the ranks of more tender aged employees becomes the task of the aging Baby Boomer leaders before they leave the ranks of corporate systems.
Let’s take a look at the differences, as well as the similarities between these two distinct generations. Consider that the Baby Boomer generation is into or fast approaching the second half of their lives with vitality never experienced by previous generations. They are healthier in mind and body and have an insatiable desire to stay connected to society and contribute. This contribution has appeared in many forms with a particular emphasis on giving back, legacy and making a difference while they also enjoy the fruits of their labor over the past thirty plus years. Life balance, contribution and being recognized for their capabilities motivate them to redefinition of the concept of retirement.
The Millennial Generation wants to design their careers, balance life, contribute to society and have more control over how they spend their time. And they want it now. They are a ‘work to live, not a live to work’ generation. You will find Millennial’s buying vacation time from their employers or quitting jobs altogether to travel, give time to noble causes or share staying at home to raise their families.
Both generations want for the same things. The battle lines have been drawn because the Baby Boomers expect the Millennial Generation to earn this right like they did. The Millennial’s have witnessed the impact of the live to work system of the Boomers. The missing component is a mutual respect for each generation. With this respect in place the cultures of organizations will transform and with it comes a better world for all.
Boomer parents in a fast paced, multi tasked, high tech, structured and scheduled activity environment raised the millennial Generation professionals of today. We have watched them play video games masterfully while talking on cell phones or text messaging their friends. At work they can be talking to a client while they e-mail memos and text message their friends setting up plans for after work. Yet, they still crave direct contact and a personal connection with their boss. That is assuming they have respect for their boss. Respect is earned, not a right of position or authority. With this respect, Millennials want a boss that is personally invested in their professional development. They want Sage Leaders to develop them, teach them and let them try, fail, learn.
Baby Boomers have a history of very direct supervision from their immediate boss. Respect was a right earned by tenure and position. Resentment crept in when respect was not evident since respect was assumed via positional power. Millenial’s want leaders and organizations to treat them as allies and partners, not ‘masters’ of them. Respect is not granted freely due to position or tenure. Respect comes with time proven success. They want their leaders to be mentors and strategists. Leaders that show their human side and want continual growth and learning for themselves as much as for their people.
Notice any similarities? As we have brought generations together to be in conversation we have had the pleasure of understanding emerging. May we all recognize that like many battles over history, the lines in the sand are drawn because we don’t take the time to understand each other. If I can contribute to some of that understanding I will consider myself content and fulfilled.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Stretch Outside Our Comfort Zones

I played baseball as a peewee kid giving me my first exposure to team sports. In junior high I had further experiences and fell in love with just about any game I could play that involved participating with others toward an end goal. Junior high opened my possibilities to volleyball, basketball and baseball. I couldn’t wait to get to high school and play with the big kids. Especially football. We didn’t have football in junior high and it was my grand passion. I had hoped to play football in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring.
Throughout the year I would shoot buckets, play catch with both footballs and baseballs and spend countless hours on my own in make shift fantasy games.  My first year in high school went well and I fell in love with football and continued to play football throughout high school and into college. Basketball was another story. All my junior high basketball experience worked well as long as I could dribble the ball with my right hand, my dominant hand. In high school I didn’t make the grade because I could not dribble as well with my left as I could with my right. All my previous experience was acquired by staying in my comfort zone of my natural preferred right hand. I spent all my practice and game time playing with my natural skill. By high school I wasn’t good enough.
What might have been if I had spent many of those countless hours practicing with my less preferred left hand? Maybe basketball would have been my game instead of football. I also have more recent experience on the squash court. Now this is a game where you only need to use your dominant hand to swing away at the ball. When I would jump into the court with the pro he would pity my level of play and challenge me by playing with his left hand. I am sure he spent countless hours working on a full repertoire of skill development making him a more rounded squash player and eventually skilled enough to play at the world professional level.
As a final example, I coached my daughter in soccer over an 18-year period. Watching not only my daughter, but also many of her friends grow and develop as soccer players and human beings was as much a gift to me as was my gift of time I gave them. With the girls playing at a competitive level the coaches looked for strategies that would give us the edge against any of our opponents. As players grew and developed the really good ones were able to use both feet with equal skill. They were the ones that made defending them a real chore. The girls that were good and only with their dominant foot were easier to defend. These girls were never able to progress to the most competitive ranks of soccer.
As an executive coach with over 25 years of experience I realize I would not have made it to a level of the coaching elite without constantly working both my natural and my less preferred skill sets. As a natural introvert, I have made a great living working one on one with leaders and executives. And I would have been a strictly one-dimensional coach if I stayed only within my natural comfort zone. A stretch for me is working with teams, facilitating learning to groups in a classroom and most of all, speaking professionally to large groups. With ongoing work in all of these challenge areas I have not only grown as a coach, I continue to have abundant energy about this work that keeps me excited after 25 years in the profession. There are many days that I count myself lucky to just now be fully hitting my stride. I look forward to the second half of my career as an executive coach.
Some of the leadership gurus espouse the virtues of playing to our strengths. I agree in theory. Let us recognize and continue to develop our natural gifts. And give us the fortitude to discover the stretch zones and work at them so we can stand tall in the heat of battle when we need to dribble around that defender and it calls for us to use our less natural foot to execute with success. The old adage of what got you here won’t keep you here looms large for leaders and executives alike. Without finding a way to grow both your natural strengths and your less preferred skill sets, you will languish in the ranks of leadership mediocrity at a minimum. More likely, you will find yourself looking for a new job or career. Only the strong survive may need to be replaced with – the lifelong learner that constantly stretches themselves outside their comfort zones will excel. If leaving a legacy ever enters you minds eye, embrace stretching yourself and you have a greater chance of entering the ranks of the leaders others tell stories about when we ask them to tell stories about the leaders that had a significant impact on their lives. I aspire to be one of those some day!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Unseen Road

When I lead workshops about coaching I often start with an exercise where we ask participants to think of experiences they’ve had in the past when someone saw something in them they didn’t even see in themselves. My good friends Gregg Thompson and Susanne Biro, in their book Unleashed call this the Unseen Road. Great coaches and leaders can see talent in us that we don’t see in ourselves or discount in some form or another. It can open our eyes to roads that are far grander than the possibilities we may have seen in ourselves. This to me is the number one responsibility and gift of significant leaders, coaches and for parents as well. Whenever I ask people to do this exercise I invariably ask myself the same question. Who shows up for me seems to be consistent each time. I wonder if that is because I have asked people this question so often? Or could it be I haven’t seen newer material that has had as strong and lasting effect as the three names I come up with each time?
Fritz Halfacre, my high school football coach, comes up. Frank Osmun, the guidance counselor at the same high school. And most significantly, my father consistently shows up. I believe these three are most prominent because they were in my life at the potentially most vulnerable and impressionable times of my life. I fully believe that without each of them sharing the Unseen Road they saw in me I would not be where I am today.
When I would ask the people you lead, your children or anyone else whose lives you touch, would they readily say your name as one of those they see as a significant contributor to their lives? If not, what will you do to change that? If there are people in your life that made a difference in your life – tell them.
Margaret Cousins wrote – “Appreciation can make a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.” And, I once heard Ken Blanchard, the One Minute Manager guru, speak and a few of his words have stuck with me for nearly 20 years. He said, “Good thoughts left in your head mean squat!” I would particularly like to encourage you to share the stories of the impact someone special has had in your life.